Building Communities Free Enterprise Staff  | September 1, 2016

Baltimore’s Entrepreneurs Are Leading Charm City’s Comeback

America’s Charm City, as it’s commonly known, has implemented numerous innovative programs that are helping more Baltimore residents launch successful companies — particularly in the tech sector — which are in turn playing a vital role in the city’s ongoing revival.

The number of technology workers in the city increased by a staggering 42 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to a 2015 study by real estate firm CBRE. That same report also ranked Baltimore eighth out of 50 American cities for its ability to attract and grow its tech workforce.

Indeed, U.S. Census data show that Baltimore is experiencing an influx of college-educated millennials. And between 2000 and 2010, the number of 25-to 34-year-olds with college degrees living within three miles of the city’s downtown business district rose 92 percent, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore’s recent startup growth is all the more significant considering that it comes on the heels of decades of decline in its once-bustling manufacturing and shipping industry. That decline has had a dire impact on the local job market, but a new generation of tech innovators is helping turn things around.

The city’s high-tech growth can be traced back to something rather old-fashioned: community support. Local groups are providing the kind of on-the-ground help that allows startup entrepreneurs to thrive, explained Deb Tillet, president and executive director of Baltimore’s Emergency Technology Centers (ETC). The city-funded nonprofit, launched in 1999, provides services such as business classes for local residents, shared co-working spaces and low-interest business loans for entrepreneurs.

“[Baltimore] is 100 percent a collaborative community of support,” she explained. “I say all the time that entrepreneurs need three Cs: capital, creativity and connections. But they also need community and collaboration to last.”

After living and working in Baltimore for years, Tillet says she has seen firsthand how local entrepreneurship programs pay off in the long run for residents. For example, since ETC’s inception, the organization has worked with more than 400 companies that have created local jobs and brought in approximately $2.2 billion in outside capital to the region.

“It makes a difference for entrepreneurs to have organizations like ETC, the city and incubators to help them when they need it,” she said.

The ETC isn’t the only organization working overtime to help entrepreneurs. The Propel Baltimore Fund is a venture fund that invests in early-stage companies that are either located in the city or willing to relocate to the area. Meanwhile, a non-profit group called the D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Resources to Empower All Minds) Foundation offers a free summer entrepreneurship program called Y.E.S. (Youth Entrepreneurship Startup Program) to high school students in underserved communities.

The city’s community-driven approach to entrepreneurship hasn’t gone unnoticed. A report by Free Enterprise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Washington-based startup incubator 1776 recently ranked Baltimore’s startup ecosystem connectivity—a term that describes the degree to which government, local institutions and support organizations work together to help entrepreneurs succeed—among the best in the country.

“Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New Orleans are not major drivers of the digital economy yet, but they are attracting educated young people, building collaborative innovation communities and creating the right cultural foundation to rise beyond recent challenges to stay relevant,” authors of the report said.

Community support is the main reason local entrepreneur John Davis has continued to use Baltimore as the headquarters for his company, Notice and Comment—an interactive database that collects and provides access to government notices and documents from across the country. He believes the seamless partnerships between business groups, local governments and entrepreneurs like himself are a boon for business.

“[My co-founder and I] started here because I met my wife and moved to Baltimore to be with her, but the reason I’ll stay here is because of the community support,” he explained.

Davis added, speaking about the impact of the ITC: “Deb has brought in people like the mayor of Salt Lake City or Undersecretary of the Treasury, who I’m not sure I would have ever met. It’s because of community and government support that we have these opportunities.”